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New hope where Katrina hit hardest: Trio of city buildings coming to Waveland | Congress for the New Urbanism

New hope where Katrina hit hardest: Trio of city buildings coming to Waveland

Much of Waveland, Mississippi still looks as it did after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005 and the initial debris was cleared. While the parts of the city that are on higher ground further from shore now go about their business (with a Wal-Mart supplying needed sales to the tax base), the old downtown near the shore is primarily grassy stubble and the concrete and asphalt outlines of streets (see photo below). But that's about to change very soon.

New Haven-based architect and planner and CNU-member Robert Orr first went to Waveland in October 2005 as leader of the Waveland planning team of the MIssissippi Renewal Forum, the 8-day, 110-planner-strong charrette led by Andres Duany and co-sponsored by CNU and the MIssissippi Governor's Office of Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal. That's Orr in the photo at right, leading a public meeting in a tent during that historic charrette.

Since the Waveland charrette team worked alongside townspeople to create visionary plans for rebuilding, Orr has been back to Waveland something like 20 times, mostly at his own expense. Progress has been real, but slow and largely invisible. But now Waveland (and Orr) have something bold and tangible to look forward to in the near future -- the construction of the trio of municipal buildings pictured here. Designed by Orr — and funded by FEMA, Community Development Block Grants, insurance money and other sources — the development will give Waveland a new city hall, municipal annex and fire station, all grouped around a courtyard that will serve as a focal point as the downtown grows again. The city hall is on the left and fire station is the building to the right with the tower. "We need to finish the construction drawings and go through the FEMA approval process, but things are starting to look like reality," says Orr. "Everyone feels that seeing the City Hall come back for real will be a huge boost to confidence."

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Protecting Waveland's new muni complex from future storm surges

Although proximity to Katrina's center meant profound wave surge damage in Waveland, it's actually elevated a bit more than low-lying areas further east.

Plans to rebuild in neighborhoods such as East Biloxi are thus confounded by the need to protect the buildings from future surges — by elevating them as much as 20 feet or more. Making the economics (not to mention logistics) of such buildings work can be confounding, especially for moderate-income communities like the Vietnamese of East Biloxi.

In Waveland, the land rises gently but steadily away from the shore. The municipal complex designed by Orr sounds like it will be a few hundred feet from the shore and will require a reasonable 5-foot first-floor elevation.
"This is far enough back from the shore that we are not in what used to be called the "V" zone. Therefore, retail and other uses can be built probably another block or so toward the water before the "V" zone interferes," he explains. "The elevation at the site is 15.5' above sea level. We had to set the first floors for these municipal buildings at 20'. Instead of having them all have a lot of steps, we raised a shared courtyard 4.5' so they all appear to be on grade."

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